Two positive things happened. We now had a manager, Gerry Young, whose enthusiasm and protective ferocity lifted our spirits and shielded us from Virgin's meddling in band affairs. Secondly, we found a new bass player, Jocelyne Lanois, (who was so nervous about auditioning with us she didn't show up for our first meeting!) It turned out that Jocelyne had two brothers, Bob and Dan, who had a studio in Hamilton, an hour's drive west of Toronto. After doing some demo tapes there we decided to ask Dan to co-produce our third album. With Daniel Lanois, we finally found someone who understood, appreciated and encouraged the more experimental/textural/noisy side of the band - qualities that had never been fully realized on "Metro Music" and "Trance and Dance". Virgin reluctantly agreed to let us do the album with Dan, (having no idea who this marvellous person was), but only if we agreed to a cut in the budget. We went along with this as the price for being left alone to do the album our way.
Between May and July of 1981, we recorded the new album at Nimbus 9 in Toronto and Grant Avenue Studio in Hamilton. Far from record company interference, we unleashed all the pent-up emotions of the previous year into the new project. From a personal standpoint, I felt free for the first time to incorporate many of the experimental music techniques that I had used in composing my soundscapes in The Sound Lab as a student at the Ontario College of Art -long tape loops, found sounds, happy accidents and improvision without set goals. The resulting album, "This Is The Ice Age" was a musical breakthrough for us and remains my favourite album overall.
Dan continued to work with us on the follow-up album, "Danseparc", recorded at Grant Avenue Studio during the spring and summer of 1982 with new drummer Nick Kent and the first of three albums to be recorded with Canadian indie label Current Records. With the departure of Andy Haas in late 1981, the band was in danger of losing some of the free form elements that his highly inventive approach to horn playing had brought to the Muffins sound. With this in mind, two talented horn players were brought into the Danseparc sessions, Ron Allen and John Oswald. (John would later gain notoriety for "Plunderphonics", his savagely brilliant deconstructions of popular songs and radio plays.) With "Danseparc" MatM delved even further into the use of found sounds, incorporating television soap opera dialogue, bagpipes, rain forest pygmy and Gregorian chants and other aural scraps and fragments.
With the release of "Danseparc" in 1983, the band embarked on another tour, playing dates in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. The core band was augmented for the tour by Quammie Williams on percussion, sax player Wayne Mills and guitarist Michael Brook. (Michael eventually produced several albums of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and has received wide acclaim for his own recordings and film work.)
The 1983 tour culminated in a performance at The Forum, an outdoor amphitheatre in Toronto's Ontario Place on August 15th in front of 10,000 excited fans. The evening was recorded live by Daniel Lanois on a mobile studio. Not long after, the tapes inexplicably disappeared from the offices of Current Records. Believed to have been lost or stolen, the multitracks remained missing for fifteen years. It wasn't until 1998 when our former manager, Gerry Young, was clearing the house of his recently deceased mother that the tapes were discovered in a bedroom closet. In listening to those tapes again after so many years I realized I had forgotten how thrilling the band's live improvising could be. The near abandon of "This Is The Ice Age" is beautifully chaotic and I hope we can eventually release the Ontario Place concert as a live C.D.
That evening after the show, some of us gathered at Gerry Young's house to celebrate the end of a successful tour when Jocelyne broke down in tears, fearing that this was the last time the band would play together and that Martha and I were going to continue on without her and Nick Kent. Jocelyne's intuitions were right. Martha and I were becoming increasingly frustrated with the responsibilities of leading a band. As songwriters we wanted to escape the confines of a band format, work with new people, try new approaches. Nevertheless, it was a very difficult decision to break up a great band and go it alone. MatM in the best sense was very much like a family. We didn't realize at the time how much we would miss that supportive, nurturing environment.
Martha and I retreated to a farm overlooking the Beaver Valley north of Toronto, demoing several songs and making field recordings of crickets, thunderstorms and short-wave radio noises. Dan Lanois visited and we discussed ideas and approaches for the next album. It was decided that a change of scenery would be inspiring and we decided to record the bed tracks at The Power Station in New York City.
Brian Eno had recommended a drummer who had played on "My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts" album, Yogi Horton, who in turn brought in bass player Tinker Barfield. This powerhouse rhythm section brought a whole new sound to many of the songs in ways that we could have never planned or predicted. When Dan brought the Brecker Brothers in to play on "Black Stations/White Stations", they adapted Tinker's bass line for the riveting horn intro. (Only Prince's "When Doves Cry" stopped "Black Stations/White Stations" from reaching #1 on Billboard's Dance Chart in 1984.)
Why the name change to M+M in 1984? When Martha and I decided to disband the Danseparc band, become a duo and concentrate on studio recording, it seemed like an opportune time to shed the weight of the band's past and for me to escape being called "a Muffin". (Why couldn't we have agreed on a cool name like Talking Heads or Voice of the Beehive?) The band name we had intended to use once had in fact, lasted seven years. In retrospect however, changing the name was a foolish thing to have done. I have to take responsibility for this as it was entirely my bad idea. Most fans as it turned out, liked the original name better and many casual listeners never realized "Echo Beach" and "Black Stations/White Stations" were written and sung by the same people.
The success of "Black Stations/White Stations" allowed us to buy a home studio which enabled us to experiment, write and record at leisure. We named it The Web, (this was long before the Internet), because of the daunting number of cobwebs and other detritus that had to be cleared out of the basement where it was to be located. Once set up and spider web-free, we started working on songs for the next album.
Dan's involvement with Peter Gabriel's film soundtrack "Birdy" meant we were going to have to find another producer to collaborate with. After three albums in the role of the Muffins' George Martin, Dan felt we didn't need a co-producer, that we knew what we wanted to do and should produce ourselves. Nevertheless, Martha and I still thought we needed someone who could help translate our ideas in a big studio environment. After checking out a number of producers, we decided that David Lord, based on his production work with Peter Gabriel and in particular, a track called "Wake Up" by XTC, would fit the bill.